Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado Upcoming Trip

16 Jul

Mid summer marks the time when a limited window of opportunity opens to explore some of our country’s most dramatic alpine landscapes.  This year marks my fourth annual pilgrimage into some of the most wild and remote places in the Western United States.  Some of the places I’ve been to in the past include: the Ruby Mountains, the Great Western Divide, the Bechler River Wilderness, and the Galatin Mountains.

Early July, Ruby Mountains, Nevada

Early July, Ruby Mountains, Nevada

Depending on the location, there is at most a three-month window to get to these places before the inclement weather settles in. This is the main reason why summer has a special place in my heart. For me, it is the most intrepid time of the year.  This year I am planning a visit to the Weminuche Wilderness.

To those of you not familiar with the area, the Weminuche occupies the far southwestern corner of Colorado to the immediate  east between  Durango and Silverton.  Its location is at nearly the epicenter of the San Juan Mountains and at just under 500,000 acres, it is Colorado’s largest wilderness area. This is a place that contains three 14,000 foot peaks as well as the headwaters for many major streams and rivers including the Rio Grande, San Juan, and Animas Rivers.  The Weminuche is also the state’s  deepest and most impenetrable wilderness. Many of its spectacular back country locations are accessible only by long hiking trails where days of backpacking travel are necessary.  Some years, the trails are snowed in until the middle of July and a snowstorm  is not uncommon in September.

To date, I’ve spent about a week in the state of Colorado on two different trips that both involved staying in my favorite place called Telluride, which also happens to be nearby.  During my travels, I’ve driven around the western periphery of the Weminuche, but I have never ventured into it.  The Weminuche proper is surrounded on almost all sides by other wilderness areas, generally consisting of the same mountains and rugged terrain, but technically of different names. Trying to familiarize yourself with a general wilderness area this large and complex is like trying to put together a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle.

I am waiting on several more maps coming in the mail.

I am also waiting on several more maps coming in the mail.

The research is intensive.  For me, it started with a map followed by a guide-book and then more maps and books and finally Internet research. Moreover, this will be my first solo backpacking trip in several years and will also be my longest.  Some of the other major considerations I must take into account are: road conditions, weather, driving distances, supplies, hiking miles, wild animals, altitude acclimatization, and wilderness rules/regulations.

Mental preparation becomes as important as physical preparation.  One of the focal points of my preparation for this trip is what do in case of a lightning storm. Colorado is known for its mid summer monsoon storms and its high peaks and lakes are like lightning rods. What happens if an electrical storm rolls in when I am ten miles and 3,000 feet up from my vehicle? Noted below is the best information I have found on this subject to date.

NOLS Lightning Safety Guidelines.pdf (application/pdf Object)

My trip is coming up fast and I have some other ideas and information to share with you about it before I leave near the end of this month.  I am also going to post a detailed itinerary and try to make this trip more interactive than what I have done in the past.  If you have any suggestions for restaurants,  campgrounds, driving tips,  or anything at all I’d love to hear from you. I am looking forward to sharing more with you in the future. Have a wonderful day!

2 Responses to “Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado Upcoming Trip”

  1. Patti Payne July 17, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

    Hi Michael, I have backpacked in the Weminuche many times and consider it my favorite place in Colorado. I would suggest doing the CDT. There are many trails that access the trail making it really simple to plan shuttle hikes. If you access it by the Weminuche Pass trail you can hike south and return to you car on the Squaw Pass trail avoiding the need for a shuttle. One of my favorite hikes is what I call the train loop. Take the narrow gauge railroad from Durango to Silverton. Before you reach Silverton get off at Needleton and hike into Chicago Basin. You can make a loop and catch the train back at Elk Creek Trailhead. This is a wonderful hike that I’ve completed twice. The only drawback is that at the time of year you’re going, Chicago Basin is packed with people climbing the 3 14ers. I’ve seen elk, deer, porcupine (one tried to get in my tent on Weminuche Pass!) and the usual marmots and pikas but never a bear, although I’ve seen prints and scat. I don’t know if you’re aware of the huge amount of snow the Colorado Rockies received this year, but in some places it was more than 200% of normal. I’m planning to backpack the 4 pass loop in the Maroon Bells after Labor Day. If I could take enough time for the drive to SW Colorado I’d happily hike in the Weminuche instead. I don’t know which trail you’re planning to hike, but if you find yourself drivein from Southfork to Creede on 149, stop at the Blue Creek Inn. The pie there is the best! No matter which trail you take,I’m sure you’ll have a very excellent time.

    • wildmoments July 19, 2011 at 1:03 pm #


      Thanks so much for your informative response. I really appreciate all the information. I would love to do the hike you suggested, however it’s a little bit more ambitious then anything I have planned based on the fact that I am traveling solo. When I find someone to go with me, it’ll definitely be the first trip I do the next time I visit the wilderness. For now, I am going to stick to Highland Mary Lakes area as my “get acquainted” trip into the wilderness. I do plan on driving near Creede and the South Fork area on my way to the Wheeler Geologic Area as well. If that happens, I’ll be sure to stop at the Blue Creek Inn. I’ll post a little more info on my trip in the upcoming days. Again, thanks so much for taking the time to be helpful.

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